CRISPIN Blunt, Britain’s Justice Minister, has announced that he was separating from his wife and that he was gay.

The MP for Reigate said he was leaving Victoria, his wife of almost 20 years, to “come to terms with his homosexuality”.

He added that there was no third party involved.

Mr Blunt, 50, is understood to have told his family, including his children Frederick, 16, and Claudia, 18, about two weeks ago. He is also the uncle of Emily Blunt, the actress, a co-star of the film The Devil Wears Prada.

Fellow Tory MPs expressed surprise at the announcement, which was not widely anticipated. They received an e-mail at 4pm London time yesterday (2am Saturday, AEST), as a statement was being released to the media.

Some Tory MPs suggested that his decision was a reflection of the more relaxed attitude to homosexuality in the Conservative party today.

A graduate of Wellington College and Sandhurst, and the son of a Major General, Mr Blunt spent 11 years in the Armed Forces, serving in the 13th/18th Royal Hussars (Queen Mary’s Own) until 1990. He then worked at the Ministry of Defence and became MP for Reigate in 1997.

Mr Blunt was appointed a Justice Minister in May, having spent most of the period under David Cameron’s leadership in the Whips office. But his career was widely expected to be short-lived.

He incurred the wrath of Downing Street last month when he announced a relaxation of rules governing prison parties. Downing Street took the rare step of issuing a formal instruction censuring him after he announced he was lifting the “deleterious” ban.

Mr Blunt is no stranger to controversy, having resigned from a previous post in 2003 as he called for a vote of no confidence in Iain Duncan Smith, then party leader.

Last night’s statement said: “Crispin Blunt wishes to make it known that he has separated from his wife Victoria. He decided to come to terms with his homosexuality and explained the position to his family. The consequence is this separation. There is no third party involvement, but this is difficult for his immediate and wider family and he hopes for understanding and support for them.

“The family do not wish to make any further public comment and hope that their privacy will be respected as they deal with these difficult private issues.”

In an e-mail to Tory MPs he added: “I know colleagues will appreciate the personal sensitivity of this, particularly for my family, who have been extraordinarily understanding.”